Digitizing Douglass

Frederick Douglass is a figure that has taken on an almost mythical stature in the historical record, in part due to his accomplishments as an orator, author, publisher, and abolitionist but also due to his careful crafting of his own image. Douglass is considered by many to be the most photographed person of his generation, something that Douglass approached with intentionality and even wrote about. He understood the power of his own image at the very earliest age of photography and used that to his advantage.

In honor of Frederick Douglass’s 200th birthday, and in conjunction with his being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Rochester, we have used digital technology and vast expertise here at the University, to bring this bust of Frederick Douglass into the 21st-century and to the world through 3-D imagining.

For twenty-five years, Fredrick Douglass and his family called Rochester, New York their home, and he chose Rochester as his final resting place, in nearby Mount Hope Cemetery. With this longtime connection and the University of Rochester’s wealth of archival and published material related to Douglass, including letters, books, artifacts, art, and more. One of the most significant holdings at the University of Rochester is a bust of Frederick, commissioned by the residents of Rochester in 1872. The marble version of the bust, created by Johnson Marchant Mundy, a well-known 19th c. sculptor, was unveiled in 1879 and placed on view at the University of Rochester, where it is today, currently housed in Frederick Douglass Hall on the ground floor.

In a collaboration with the River Campus Libraries Digital Scholarship Lab, the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, along with associate professor of English and textual science Gregory Heyworth and one of his classes to develop a 3-D scan of a historic marble bust of the famed abolitionist. Using a structured light 3-D scanner, work was done to capture views from various angles to create a 3-D rendering. From that 3-D rendering, it would be possible to create a 3-D printed replica of the bust and even change the scale.

In honor of Frederick Douglass, we have provided here a 3-D rendering and the file to download and 3D print. We will be including this in an updated Frederick Douglass collections site in the coming months.

To download a copy of the scan, select "save mesh" from the toolbar in the 3D viewer

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Samuel Drummond Porter, June 25, 1879

Douglass thanks Porter for his letter in which Porter describes the presentation of Douglass's bust to the City of Rochester and speeches made by "eminent gentlemen", specifically “Doctor Anderson, the honored President of Rochester University”. Douglass expresses his gratitude for the honor and then lists a number of struggles he faced during his early life including sleeping in the cold and being sent to jail. The contrast between these incidents and the presentation of the bust are in sharp contrast. The letter ends with Douglass stating “My attachment to Rochester - my home for more than a quarter of a century - will endure with my life”.

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Johnson M. Mundy, March 23, 1880

In this letter, Frederick Douglass writes to the sculptor, Mundy, the artist who made the marble bust which was commissioned by the citizens of Rochester to honor him after he left Rochester for Washington, D.C.

Mundy had sent Douglass photographs of the completed bust, and Douglass responds by deeply admiring it – “I am content to be made known through this specimen to all who may come after me, and who may wish to know how I looked in the world.” This praise is especially noteworthy as Douglass was very conscious of his public image. The letter ends with Douglass ordering a dozen photographic prints of the bust.

The Mundy letter was acquired through the generosity of the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries and in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, 2018.

The Francis A. Williams Songbook

This March, RBSCP acquired a rare piece of Frederick Douglass memorabilia. Farewell Song of Frederick Douglass, on Quitting England for America --the Land of his Birth is a piece of sheet music composed in 1847 upon the departure of Frederick Douglass from his two-year exile in England. The title page features a portrait of the young Douglass by British artist William Behnes. The music was composed by Julia Griffiths, who later followed Douglass to the United States and assisted with his newspaper, the North Star. Her younger brother Powis wrote the words. Only one other copy of the music is known to exist, at the British Library in London.

Farewell Song is one of 17 pieces of sheet music bound in a single volume. This was common in 19th-century middle-class households, as it protected and preserved the music acquired by a family. The cover of this book is stamped with the name Francis A. Williams and the Douglass song has been inscribed to a Miss Frances Williams. The only clue as to the identity of Miss Williams is a piece of music from a Cincinnati newspaper tucked in the back of the book. Using Ancestry.com to research census, marriage, and death records, we believe “our” Miss Williams was born in Cincinnati, OH in 1830 and was one of the first African-American women to graduate from Oberlin College. In 1854, she married Peter H. Clark, the first teacher engaged by the Cincinnati black public schools and the founder and principal of Ohio's first public high school for black students.

Even more exciting is the fact that Peter and Francis Clark moved to Rochester in 1856 when Peter accepted a job working at Frederick Douglass’ Paper. The couple lived with the Douglass’, which means it is possible our new acquisition spent time in the Douglass home in Rochester. We are thrilled with the possibility that this piece has found its way back to Rochester in 2018, the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth.

For more from rocdouglass.com please click here.